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This started out as a ranty compendium/reader on Pamela Paul, really it did.

One, from “Pamela Paul Is the New Worst Columnist at the New York Times,” by Leah Finnegan at Gawker (yes, yes, I know, the same Gawker that just did some very dirty dirty-work for the New Yorker and legacy white male media all over the world...):

Usually it takes a columnist a few years to get to a certain level of asininity; Paul, who started at the [NYT] opinion desk in April, has summited the highest peak on column five.

(It’s true Paul just started at the opinion desk, but she headed the NYT’s Books section for nine years—a somewhat pertinent fact, especially given at least one of the more recent examples of asininity that Paul has published since this Gawker piece...)

In her first column, “The Limits of ‘Lived Experience,’” Paul dredges up a series of minor culture-war clashes of the last few years before asking: “Am I, as a new columnist for The Times, allowed to weigh in on anything other than a narrow sliver of Gen X white woman concerns?”  This might be an interesting question (it’s not) if it was novel or if she had something new to say about it, but she doesn’t.  And Lionel Shriver already wore this sombrero in 2016.  Pass.

Paul’s second column was about quitting Twitter.  Oh, no.  She starts off by saying she knows she shouldn’t be writing a column about quitting Twitter — and yet.  Here we are in the most powerful Wordlepaper in the world, talking about quitting Twitter.

(Good grief.  Don’t we have enough Jordan Petersons in the world already...?)


Two, from “Pamela Paul’s Great Replacement Theory,” by Melissa Gira Grant at the New Republic:

Pamela Paul sees the end of Roe as the ideal moment to take her megaphone—one far more sizable than anti-trans feminists’—and direct it at trans people.  This is a notable turning point: when roughly half the people in America, many of them reeling from being robbed of something they were told was their birthright, were told by one rarefied columnist at the country’s most powerful newspaper that trans women are set to replace them.  Some may call that fascist.  I do.

(For another day / another tangent, the New Republic piece also has a great quote from law professor Melissa Murray: “If you don’t see the connection between the assault on reproductive rights and ethno-nationalism, you’re not paying attention.”)


Three, from Rebecca McCray at the ACLU (via Parker Molloy’s “Nobody is trying to ban the word ‘woman’” at The Present Age):

If your view of women’s rights is so threatened by language that includes and centers the most marginalized, you aren’t the advocate you think you are.

All of what McCray says is golden (ditto Molloy—speaking of rigorous journalism, by the way...).  But this especially, is important:

If you have the clout and connections to land your masturbatory think piece in the NYT, I suspect you’re smart enough to know you’re full of shit when you draw lines between the fight for trans lives/rights and the end of Roe.

You’re also, by definition, not being erased.  Using Roe’s fall as a vehicle for your hatred in the paper of record is a pretty good indication that your ideas have an attuned audience.  So miss me with the idea that you’re being silenced.


And four, from “Book bans vs. boardrooms: on Pamela Paul’s false equivalencies,” by Jonny Diamond, Editor in Chief at Lit Hub:

She’s writing for civility centrists who still think college campuses should be safe spaces for phrenologists and flat-earthers.  The thought of a paragraph-by-paragraph refutation of Paul’s rhetorical bothsidesism is truly enervating, so I will merely ask her (rhetorically) how on earth she can compare government book bans to the pressures of corrective speech, both public and private, within a for-profit industry.

Civility centrists indeed.  (I think of a meme I’ve seen, that says it a little differently...)

Jonny Diamond gets extra credit for being the reason I now know that Lit Hub has a whole category tag on “MORAL PANIC” (not much in it yet, but there’s hope...), and for another piece of his from earlier this year, in which he responds to a March 2022 opinion piece by the NYT’s editorial board, about free speech and cancel culture, which posits a largely feelings-based equivalency between book banning and Twitter pile-ons; here is the money quote:

For all the tolerance and enlightenment that modern society claims, Americans are losing hold of a fundamental right as citizens of a free country: the right to speak their minds and voice their opinions in public without fear of being shamed or shunned.

As Diamond points out (and as beautifully broken down too, in a Twitter thread he links to), this is a pretty shocking upfront misreading of life in any free country, in which shaming and shunning seems fundamental to whatever people mean by the “marketplace of ideas.”

I only wish he would have stopped to point out too, that it’s not shaming and shunning (which is, as usual, an incredibly selective and lumpenly take on the myriad ways in which cancel culture—if you insist on calling it that—actually plays out, and has in fact played out for decades...), as much as it is, quite simply, consequences.


I think of a cartoon by Amy Noseworthy that has been doing the rounds these days.

I think too—as I often do—of Claudia Rankine in The Racial Imaginary:

...to say [...] that I have a right to write [or speak, or paint, or do stand-up, etc.] about whoever [or whatever] I want, [and] that I have a right of access and that my creativity and artistry is harmed if I am told I cannot do so—is to make a mistake.  It is to begin the conversation in the wrong place.  It is the wrong place because, for one, it mistakes critical response for prohibition...

And from earlier this year (on the whole Neil Young / Joe Rogan thing on Spotify...), I think of Rebecca Solnit:

When you don’t buy The Da Vinci Code you are not censoring Dan Brown, by the way, and not watching the Super Bowl is not censoring football, and for that matter leaving the party because the loud drunk guy is spewing dangerous nonsense is not censoring the party (even though it everyone leaves it won’t be much of a party).  No one is owed a platform or an audience, and all of us get to make choices about what products, platforms, and performers we support.  Sometimes those choices are for political reasons, and those choices and our statements about them are among the forms our own free speech takes.


Elsewhere and more recently (on the whole Dave Chappelle thing in Minneapolis...), Solnit returns to this idea of our choices as the forms our own free speech takes:

...everyone makes choices all the time about who to amplify and listen to and support, and the idea that management but not workers in a venue should get to do it--well I also support the workers who objected to publishing Woody Allen's memoir and got the publisher to cancel it.  We see everyone make choices all the time; we see protests rarely.  Mostly they’ve defended the rights of the more vulnerable and that’s a good thing.  The freedom of expression of workers is to not support products and productions that violate their principles...

From there I get to thinking of Paisley Rekdal, in Appropriate:

This freedom may at times feel to you like censorship.  But censorship occurs when someone, usually a government, agent of the state, or a powerful institution, actively suppresses information or media.  Censorship is a programmatic response to speech that offends...

My criticism, your classmates’ disdain, the agent’s reluctance to represent you, your editor’s ambivalence—all these things can be navigated if you so desire.  As you’ve seen yourself in class when someone questions the nature of your work, that’s not censorship but criticism.


Eventually though, I come back to Solnit, and that last line about how the freedom of expression of workers is to not support products and productions that violate their principles.

So far, she adds, those principles have been [about] human rights solidarity.  We need to always couch arguments about freedom of speech, etc., in the light of the rights and survival of the most vulnerable.

I come back to that, because it reminds me of something Judith Butler said (via Nesrine Malik in We Need New Stories), that feels like a final word on all of this—and then some:

If free speech does take precedence over every other constitutional principle and every other community principle, then perhaps we should no longer claim to be weighing or balancing competing principles or values.  We should perhaps frankly admit that we have agreed in advance to have our community sundered, racial and sexual minorities demeaned, the dignity of trans people denied, that we are, in effect, willing to be wrecked by this principle of free speech.


Goodness, I think to myself.  This was supposed to be about Pamela Paul and her crappy opinions.  Have I digressed, I wonder?

No actually, I have not.

[Santo Spirito, Firenze | domenica 31 luglio 2022 ore 15:08:02] []
[Claudia Rankine] [Judith Butler] [Nesrine Malik] [Paisley Rekdal] [Rebecca Solnit]
[abortion] [cancel culture / free speech] [race & racism] [trans rights] [whiteness]

Not literature but a question of trying to translate what you see.

This today, via Baldwin, for an ever-growing collection on art-and-politics:

You write in order to change the world ... and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way a person looks or people look at reality, then you can change it.

I find the quote in the wild, and so I go to see where it came from.  I find that it came from an interview that Baldwin did with the New York Times, in 1979.  This, in particular, is where it came from:

But what we call literature is after the fact, and it’s difficult to say what a writer, a witness, should do.  All I know now is what I’m trying to be a witness to, and at this moment, in the life of a living man, it is not literature but a question of trying to translate what you see.  Trying to move it from one place to another.  Afterward, it may be literature.  While you’re living, dealing with other human beings, people whom you love, all you can do is have passion.  The bottom line is this: You write in order to change the world, knowing perfectly well that you probably can’t, but also knowing that literature is indispensable to the world.  In some way, your aspirations and concern for a single man in fact do begin to change the world.  The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way a person looks or people look at reality, then you can change it.


Elsewhere in the week and along some of these lines — this moving from one place to another, this living, dealing with other human beings, people whom you love — there is this, from June Jordan (not least, for being a week of June Jordan...):

Poetry is a political act because it involves telling the truth.

Again, it is a quote found out of context.  And so again, I go looking for where it came from...  This time, it is an interview in Colorlines, from 1998.  And this time, it is the interviewer’s question that carries more of what matters, for in it she quotes from Jordan herself:

You have written that “poetry is not a shopping list, a casual disquisition on the colors of the sky, a soporific daydream, or bumpersticker sloganeering.  Poetry is a political action...”

And so, once again, I go looking.  Find the rest of where it came from.  Find in fact (like I have been finding on and off this past year...), Jordan’s Poetry for the People:

And so poetry is not a shopping list, a casual disquisition on the colors of the sky, a soporific daydream, or bumpersticker sloganeering.  Poetry is a political action undertaken for the sake of information, the faith, the exorcism, and the lyrical invention, that telling the truth makes possible.  Poetry means taking control of the language of your life.  Good poems can interdict a suicide, rescue a love affair, and build a revolution in which speaking and listening to somebody becomes the first and last purpose to every social encounter.”


I think of Darwish, like I have so many times now (sometimes I feel like I think of Darwish, all the time...):

When I asked him whether he thought the text was poetry or prose, Darwish replied that the poet is always a poet; he remains true to himself whatever he does, in life or letters.


But I think too, because I have been reading her Essential Essays, of Adrienne Rich.

I think in particular, of Rich refusing the National Medal for the Arts, in 1997 (at the bottom of her letter to the NEA, like a clutch of smoldering coals, you see who was copied — “cc: President Clinton”...):

There is no simple formula for the relationship of art to justice.  But I do know that art — in my own case the art of poetry — means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of power that holds it hostage.


I wish I didn’t feel the necessity to say here that none of this is about imposing ideology or style or content on artists; it’s about the inseparability of art from acute social crisis in this century and the one now approaching.

I think of other things too, because Rich has much, much more to say about this vacuous insistence on a falsely mystical view of art — art that exists on some transcendent planeunrelated to questions of power and privilege and unclogged by the artist’s concern with merely temporary and local disturbances...

I’ll save some of that for another day.

[Santo Spirito, Firenze | venerdì 22 luglio 2022 ore 15:07:26] []
[Adrienne Rich] [James Baldwin] [June Jordan] [Mahmoud Darwish]
[art & politics]

“It’s part of a pattern.”

Gosh, gee, I don’t know.  Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help but think how interesting it is to notice, just who the people are, who rail the loudest and froth the hardest, about cancel culture.


[Santo Spirito, Firenze | mercoledì 20 luglio 2022 ore 18:07:25] []
[cancel culture / free speech]

Scatto alla Risposta

On Saturday we meet Spartacus and Amanda at Volpi.  For drinks and, more importantly, for a kind of conversationing I have missed so much—intelligent and intelligently meandering.  The difference between spacious and empty.  The difference between easy and complacent.  (The difference between intentional, and dogged.)

And blissfully, breathtakingly free too, of mansplaining, whitesplaining, anysplaining, and the lazy platitudes of both smalltalk and bigtalk.

(I think here, of a quote from The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, freshly revisited this week, for another shelf-post at last: How does one get across the fact that the best way to find out how people feel about [anything], really—is to listen to what they tell you, and to try to treat them accordingly, without shellacking over their version of reality with yours?)

Anyway.  Before they arrive, Leo comes up to ask if we want anything.  Leo who has known me almost twenty years now.  Leo who reads poetry and remembers what Ciro’s father once said about me.  Leo who has always answered when I have asked him come va, from a place that is quietly awake.

Today he tells me that he has been thinking of me these days, and of something he once heard me say in frustration — eri arrabbiata — to Ciro...

And here of course I wince—for this could be bad, couldn’t it?  But I wait, too.

He says that once, when Ciro was berating me for falling so far short of most Italian expectations (though not only Italian...) for instant, split-second responsiveness to calls and messages, I had said — angry and indignant and entirely unyielding — “Ma dove cavolo è scritto che devo rispondere subito ad ogni messaggio?”

And Leo smiles quietly, and says that he thinks about that, these days, a lot.

Penso spesso alle tue parole.  Dove è scritto che devo rispondere subito?

And you know how it is, if you are the kind of person that hates looking at photographs of yourself, but then one day someone shows you a picture in which you did not even know you were being photographed?

And for once you look like someone you would want to be with?  Want to be?

It was a little like that.

[Santo Spirito, Firenze | domenica 17 luglio 2022 ore 21:07:18] []
[Maggie Nelson]
[boundaries] [no]

running through the darkness with [her] own / becoming light

This today, via the scholar, writer, and activist Kyra Gaunt, in a workshop with Alexis Pauline Gumbs (on “Justified Rage,” June Jordan, and more...):

You can’t change something unless you care deeply about it, or are angry about it.

(This being a commonly discussed concept in cognitive neuroscience, Gaunt adds.)


At the end of the workshop, Gumbs asks everyone to respond to a line from Jordan’s 1977 poem, “I Must Become a Menace to My Enemies.”

The line is “I must become the action of my fate,” and the result of everyone’s responses is a litany of I-must-becomes that fills the air of my room like a roar.

But my favorite, for today anyway:

I must become the teacher I will learn from.

[Santo Spirito, Firenze | domenica 10 luglio 2022 ore 12:07:24] []
[Alexis Pauline Gumbs] [June Jordan] [Kyra Gaunt]
[anger] [other ways of knowing]